"No man is an island." So says John Donne in Meditation 17 and experience proves him correct. We exist in groups. The most introverted among us still have a select few that we invest in and are deeply connected with. Donne proposed a universal bond among humans that some have and will continue to debate but, for today, it is enough to say that no one exists entirely alone. As a result, a tremendous amount of our time and effort is invested in one relationship or another. The success of facebook, texting, and various other social functions is ample evidence.
As a previous post mentioned, conflict is an inevitable function of groups. One exception would be the situation addressed by a quote my son shared with me this weekend. "If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking." Maybe we could adjust that to "only one is thinking." Not all conflict is the emotionally charged variety however. Several times in a day, a group decides things. Everything from which restaurant to what is the 15 year plan for this organization is decided by groups of people. Lots of times, maybe even most times, the decision is made by whoever speaks first and is not violently opposed. Sometimes this is preceded by a fair amount of deferral. I have a friend who has proposed opening a restaurant named "I Don't Know, You Pick" because that is almost always the first thing said in response to "Where do you want to eat?"
This is fine for restaurants but what about substantive issues? Leaders must beware of silence, to be sure. Ideally we will all share our perspective and a consensus will emerge because we will each think about different aspects of the problem and, as a group, we will merge these various pieces into a greater solution. If you have spent any time at all in committee or team meetings, you realize that ideal is hard to realize! As it turns out, the restaurant situation is more revealing than it looks. Most groups will, to a greater or lesser degree, finally subscribe to one person's idea or vision. This can work great when the group is blessed with an individual who can and does take the various pieces and build a group solution. They present their solution based on several pieces of group input and folks wind up saying, "Now why didn't I think of that?" or "Why doesn't it sound like that when I say it?" This can also go terribly when a dominant person uses the force of their personality to argue away diverging viewpoints and ridicule dissenters into submission. Of course, it's usually somewhere in the middle.
What of the case where you have real, persistent disagreement? Everyone is still "playing nice" but we can't seem to move forward without voting for one and rejecting the other. Wouldn't it be nice if we could appeal to a wise outsider who was already well-informed on the subject for the right answer? Christians have exactly that. We believe, or at least say we believe, in an omniscient God who speaks to us. Admittedly, not all the groups you participate in are made up exclusively of Christians but what if you sought God's opinion in those circumstances and supported the opinion He led you to? What of the groups who are entirely Christians? Why don't we employ this strategy? Richard Foster argues for congregation business meetings to be run in this way in Celebration of Discipline and provides one example.
This is not the quick way to do business. This will be long, requiring time for earnest prayer and hearing from everyone multiple times. Some already have the voice hammering away, "This isn't practical." Maybe not by this world's standards but, if we really are preparing for the world to come, this might be a way to practice today.